Michael Pina writes the crossover-centric blog Shaky Ankles. Appropriately, he comes to HoopSpeak with an excellent guest column on Deron Williams.
In a season of unprecedented exhilaration, in which night after night (after night) is full of unexpected plot twists, why do I feel like I’m being cheated?
In recent days I’ve located the source of my subtle heartache: Deron Williams. We’re seeing a different Williams this year; one who scatters once-in-a-generation brilliance amongst sulking laziness–the latter becoming more characteristic of his play. And so I’ve brought myself to ask a few more questions: Is Deron Williams’ relevance important to the NBA? Is it important (to me, to us?) that he be unshackled from obscurity and given a higher purpose? What will it take for his name (and game) to become the topic of daily conversation among NBA diehards?
Honestly, in the saddest, most unfortunate way possible—my mother has heard of Jeremy Lin yet she couldn’t tell Deron Williams apart from Mike Bibby—this situation is teetering on the edge of comical and depressive. It’s funny because what Deron Williams is doing with one of the worst casts imaginable (The Nets have won eight games this year with the one-dimensional Anthony Morrow holding things down as their second leading scorer. This would be like if Russell Westbrook’s sidekick was Daequan Cook. Avert your eyes accordingly.) is about as satisfactory a job as anyone can muster. The one player most associated with Williams throughout his career has been Chris Paul. To watch Paul weave his way through Los Angeles has been awesome theatre; throwing lobs, taking over in close games when he knows he has to, and contending for a ring. Deron Williams in New Jersey is the exact opposite. There’s no supporting cast, no primetime match-ups, and definitely no talk of winning a championship.
We look at Deron Williams and what do we say? He shouldn’t have been an All-Star. In this most irregular of regular seasons, a real “superstar” would will this team to at least .500 in the woeful East. He’s wasting away. He’s irrelevant. But in reality no man, woman, child, nor machine could drag this depleted (let’s not forget Brook Lopez’s two-way impact) New Jersey Nets roster within a puncher’s reach of hitting the playoffs.
In a game of full of imperfect free flowing motion, almost every single Deron Williams action appears to be carried out with positive purpose. On offense, he’s mechanical in his ability to achieve success with an array of spin moves, hesitation dribbles, and carefully employed crossovers.
Williams has registered more minutes than Kevin Love and Kevin Durant this season, and 100 more than the second highest contributor on his own team. He has a higher Ast% than Chris Paul, and a higher Usg% than Derrick Rose. His numbers in crunch time are very impressive, with almost every statistical category taking a major bump in per 36 minute percentages. Williams is scoring more points per 36 minutes than ever before, but on terms that aren’t his own.
Long lauded for his broad skill-set, Williams isn’t playing like a combo-guard, he’s the Nets omni-guard. He’s attempting fewer shots at the rim and more from the outside (two years ago he was taking 3.4 three-pointers per game. Right now it’s at 6.0). Almost 1/5th of all his offensive production comes when he’s using a screen off the ball, according to Synergy. This isn’t right. Deploying Deron Williams like Kyle Korver is to rip car keys from a certain wearer of white, blood-stained scorpion jackets. (Although to his credit, Williams has becoming one of the 25 most efficient scorers in this situation. He’s proven to be one of the better shooters we have, yet he can’t do it all.)
In an Associated Press game recap written at the beginning of February, the following sentence was published: “Deron Williams’ teammates fumbled a half-dozen of his passes in the first three quarters.” What we’re seeing right now is a disinterested basketball player who’s passive-aggressively letting his frustrations boil out on the defensive end. I watched every single defensive pick and roll sequence Williams has participated in this season, and he almost always goes under the screen.
Why? Well, apart from it being Avery Johnson’s game plan, the answer is simple: The moment Williams goes over the screen, his man is already in the paint. Whether it be Jeremy Lin, Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Knight, Kyrie Irving, or Tony Parker, Williams (this applies for every person alive, by the way) simply wasn’t fast enough to stay with him. With big men who appear to be wearing the latest in cement sneaker technology, this is isn’t all Williams’ fault, but his effort at times has been laughable. Sometimes he looks as if he can’t decide what he wants to do, and the result is him crashing into the screen, like a school of fish into a cargo net.
The only opponent he religiously goes above the screen on is Chauncey Billups. At first, I thought this was because he respected his shot and wanted to prevent the wide open three. Then I realized, after watching him go under on an above average shooter like Jose Calderon, it’s really just a case of Williams believing Chauncey’s old legs are the only ones he can stay with. According to 82games.com, Williams’ PER per 48 minutes is 17.1, while his opponents are posting an 18.8.
Over the weekend, Bill Simmons wrote on Grantland that according to those who’re “in the know”, Williams to Dallas is all but a done deal this offseason. Playing under Rick Carlisle’s brilliance, alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and a re-energized Lamar Odom, Deron Williams would be back on national television, back in the playoffs, and back in the ever-contentious “top point guard” conversation.
Of course, this could also happen if Dwight Howard joins him in Brooklyn, but something about that scenario feels more founded in yearning than substance. Lost seasons are never fun. If he’s in Dallas (or Los Angeles, or with Dwight in Brooklyn) next year, getting more exposure than he’s ever had, we’ll see a player worthy of first team All-NBA consideration. Someone who is arguably one of the 10 best players of the last decade. All will feel right, and the NBA will somehow become an even more compelling league than it is today.